Self-hypnosis may help hay fever sufferers


By Shaoni Bhattacharya Self-hypnosis could be used to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever and possibly cut the amount of drugs needed by sufferers, a new study suggests. Volunteers allergic to grass or birch pollen who learned self-hypnosis reported a reduction in symptoms – such as a runny nose. Furthermore, fewer doses of “rescue medication” were needed to treat attacks, although this result was not statistically significant. Laboratory measurements also showed that hypnosis improved nasal airflow. Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland tested 66 hay fever sufferers over two years. While the effects of self-hypnosis were “not very strong”, says Andreas Bircher, who led the team, “it gives patients the possibility of intervening for themselves”. The idea is “very fair and reasonable”, says Mike Matthews, chair of Allergy UK and a retired general practitioner who has researched hypnotherapy. But he agrees that “the numbers are small”. Self-hypnosis may be an effective medical approach for many ailments, says psychologist John Gruzelier, at Imperial College, London, UK, and editor of the journal Contemporary Hypnosis. He suggests that self-hypnotherapy might improve hay fever symptoms by regulating the immune system. Previous work by Gruzelier’s group found that hypnosis facilitates the production of immune cells, called T-cells. It suggested hypnotherapy was beneficial to students under exam stress and also to patients with chronic genital herpes. However, despite using skin tests and immunoglobulin measures, Bircher says his team did not find any immune effects in this latest study. He says the hypnotherapy might have improved symptoms via a physiological effect on the vascular [blood vessel] phase of the patients’ response to allergens. In hay fever, increased blood flow to the nose is thought to give rise to congestion, Matthews explains. It is on this swelling of the vessels that conventional hay fever drugs work. And it is well-documented that hypnosis can alter blood flow, he adds. “Through your mind, in a way we don’t understand, you can directly affect the blood flow of a small part of your body.” The team randomised patients to receive a two-hour session from a physician – either teaching them self-hypnosis or just talking about their condition. The self-hypnosis group were taught a relaxation technique to use instead of rescue medication when they felt the onset of an allergic episode. “They imagined a ‘safe place’ for themselves,” explains Bircher. “This could be a nice walk in the woods, a snowfield or a beach. And they try to induce this trance by themselves.” The technique is not what people usually think of as hypnosis, he says, where a person loses awareness. Bircher adds that an unavoidable flaw of the study was that it could not be a blind experiment – where subjects are unaware of the group to which they are assigned. Journal reference: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DOI:
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